Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Garden Fox on Candid Camera

We moved the camera and got a better head shot. The ears do not look large enough to be a Kit fox, so we'll call it a grey fox.  The desert foxen are less fluffy than the ones in colder climates, especially with summer coming.

It appears to spot the camera, bobs it head up and down - a common tactic to check something out - and strolls off.

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Sunday, May 11, 2014

Do Arizona Foxes Poop in the Woods?

I don't know, but they are pooping in my garden.  We were curious about the source of non-feline feces repeatedly appearing in the side yard and set up a trail cam.

One or two foxes stroll into the camera's field of view and take advantage of my facilities.  The clips were taken a few minutes apart, so it may be one fox making a loop around the side yard.

This also explains a chewed-up leather work glove and probably the disappearance of the tree rats.

It's probably a kit fox (Vulpes macrotis)  or maybe a small Gray Fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus).  It's hard to tell with the infrared images.
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Friday, May 9, 2014

Watching Grass Grow: Blue Grama Grass

Another Experiment

This is a total experiment ... I over-seeded the buffalo grass with another low-care native grass from the short-grass prairies, Blue grama grass, (Bouteloua gracilis).

It's supposed to sprout in 5 or 6 days, so for a couple of weeks the lawn is getting a couple of minutes of water 3 times a day to encourage the seeds. Then we'll cut back as the Blue Grama gets established.
Blue grama. Bouteloua gracilis at Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
Photo by SEWilco from Wikimedia Commons

If it works, I'll know when we see seed heads pop up in the late summer.  The birds will love it, and maybe it will help choke out the Bermuda grass.

Blue Grama grown as an ornamental accent in Japan.

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Thursday, May 8, 2014

Birds that Live in Glass Houses

The Verdins Built It Where?

Verdins (Auriparus flaviceps) are tiny yellow-headed birds that flit around the desert eating bugs. They are almost always in motion, cheeping and flitting incessantly, bustling around in the branches and flowers. They are great for keeping aphids and whiteflies under control in my yard.

Verdin on Peruvian Cereus
They build big, messy nests that are disguised as a clump of dead twigs caught in a branch. The entrance is low on the side, or even under the nest.  They build nests that are rough shelters for adults and more elaborate nests lined with soft material for raising a brood.

This pair of verdins started out in a mesquite tree.  Even when we pruned off a broken branch next to the nest, they kept building.

Verdin nest in mesquite tree.

Unfortunately we had a serious wind storm a couple days after I took this photo. The branch with the nest broke off and was dangling. We checked the nest for eggs or hatchlings and found none, so we pruned off the branch and scattered the nesting materials out for them to reuse. If we had to destroy their house, we could at least help them rebuild.

Several days later one of the cats was chittering at the front window, intently watching a pair of verdins picking up tiny twigs. I watched them fly .... here.

Yup ... the solar light over the entry.
They were stuffing one of the solar entry lights full of twigs and fiber, beginning another nest.

We moved it into a shadier location under a nearby eave, fearing the afternoon sun would cook any eggs they laid. The verdins kept building until that afternoon, when they apparently realized the nest was too hot. They abandoned the glass house briefly and are building a nest in the ironwood in the back yard.

Work is continuing on the glass house as well as the other nest. Maybe they like the view.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Watching Grass Grow: Preventing Bald Spots

Where's the Grass-rogaine?

The buffalo grass is prone to develop bare spots, at least in this area with the watering schedule I keep. Unless you are keeping the bare soil moist, it's unlikely to fill them in with new springs.

I'm doing a week or two of short, frequent watering sessions to encourage the grass to spread. 
Dead spot where Bermuda grass died, before de-thatching.

Baldness Prevention tips:
  • Empty the mower bag before it overflows and starts dropping clumps of clippings on the lawn. Those clumps turn into bald spots.
  • Pick up fallen twigs and other debris frequently.
  • Kill weeds, especially the ones with a rosette of leaves. When they die they leave round bald spots.
  • Fill in any craters the birds dig.
  • Don't let your dogs pee on the grass. It kills the grass in that spot. 
  • If you have pop-up sprinklers, turn them on during the daytime and check the flow and alignment. Lack of water makes big bald spots.
  • Trim back bushes that overhang the sprinklers.
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Monday, May 5, 2014

Watching Grass Grow: Feeding the Buffalo

Adding Amendments

Buffalo grass does not need or tolerate much fertilizer. Mine was last fertilized when we planted the plugs in March of 2009. 

However, it does do better with some help dealing with the alkaline desert dirt.  I applied about 20 pounds of soil sulfur and 15 pounds of Ironite, sprinkled evenly over the 1200 square feet. The sulfur lowers the pH a bit, freeing minerals that are locked up in the alkaline dirt. The Ironite is because our dirt is low in iron.

I made a large shaker jar to use for applying the granular amendments. It's a recycled roasted nut jar with 3/8 inch holes drilled in half of the lid. I can weigh the jar and contents and know I'm not overdosing the grass on nitrogen. 

Upcycled, recycled, totally cheap fertilizer applicator.

TIP: Weigh out half the amendment and walk back and forth, shaking out the contents of the jar as you walk. Then sprinkle the other half, going at right angles to your first path. It gives a more even distribution. Then water the lawn thoroughly to dissolve the granules into the soil.

How much fertilizer? 

Several university websites recommend lightly fertilizing Buffalo grass with 1 lb "effective nitrogen" per 1000 square feet after the grass has greened up. A slow-release fertilizer would be best.

TIP: Apply fertilizer AFTER you see the lawn start to green up. If you apply it before then it encourages weeds, it does not speed up the process of "greening up".

http://aggie-turf.tamu.edu/aggieturf2/calculators/fertsheet.html says 5 lb of Amminium Sulfate would do it. I applied about 3 pounds last week, and may apply the remaining two pounds later.

CAUTION: Do not use the "Weed and Feed" type fertilizers that combine herbicides or pre-emergents with fertilizer. They will damage your buffalo grass lawn. 
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Sunday, May 4, 2014

Watching Grass Grow: Grooming the Buffalo

De-thatching the lawn

It's time for a makeover and spa week for the lawn. Five years after planting, some bald patches had developed, the turf was thinning, and it was looking as patchy as a shedding bison. It had a rough couple of years in 2012 and 2013 because I wasn't here to monitor the watering and mowing. And some of the Bermuda died, leaving bald spots.

Shaggy buffalo eating grass

In the wild, buffalo grass would be closely grazed by bison or cows and occasionally be burned to the ground in a grass fire. I'm going to mimic that by mowing it short and de-thatching it. For comparison, annual de-thatching is recommended for Bermuda grass.
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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Apian Orgies! Bees Shamelessly Wallowing in Pollen

Wild Pollinators

In honor of May Day: One of the local bees wallowing in my cactus flowers. It's a leaf-cutter bee, the ones that leave your roses and bougainvillia in tatters.

Watch the bee's hind legs as she stands on her head to gather the pollen. They do not have pollen baskets like the European honey bees, so they pack pollen onto the hairs on their abdomens. The front legs hold onto the filament at the base of the stamen and the back legs scrape pollen off the anthers.

It's the same clip, run at normal speed, slow-motion and slow + zoom.

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